VA Disability Rating for Lumbar Strain

A lumbar strain involves injuries to the lower back, including damaged muscles and tendons. Lumbar strain causes muscle spasms, pain, and weakness. It limits the activities of veterans and can prevent them from working. Veterans Guide looks at the VA rating for service-connected lumbar strains and how to pursue disability compensation through the VA.

Muscle and tendon damage in the lower back cause ongoing pain that can greatly limit everyday activities. Damaged muscles and tendons sustained from strains can lead to stiffness, spasms, and soreness. While acute lumbar strain resolves with rest and rehabilitation, many veterans face chronic symptoms of lumbar strain. Persistent pain, tenderness, and decreased mobility make it difficult to work, engage in activities of daily living, or enjoy time with friends and loved ones.

Veterans with a service-connected chronic lumbar strain can file a disability claim with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA rating for lumbar strain decides how much compensation a veteran with this condition qualifies for. By filing a compensation claim with the VA, you can receive support and services for issues resulting from a lumbar strain.

Veterans and Lumbar Strain

Symptoms of a lumbar strain include pain and spasms in the lower back. The condition can cause the back to feel sore or sensitive to the touch. Patients with acute lumbar strain may need to rest, use ice, and go through stretching and strengthening exercises that help protect the lower back and improve mobility as it heals. Patients may also need to exercise and support abdominal muscles to increase recovery and protect the low back from further strain.

For some veterans, however, symptoms of lower back injuries do not resolve with rest and time. Patients who do not receive proper therapy during acute injury or suffer repeated damage to the lower back can suffer from chronic lumbar strain.

Risk Factors for Chronic Lumbar Strain Symptoms

21.6 percent of veterans report they have lower back pain. Veterans engage in many activities as part of their service that worsen the symptoms of lower back pain, increase the risk of muscle strain or sprain, or raise the odds of chronic back injuries. These activities include:

  • Repetitive movements
  • Heavy lifting
  • Poor body mechanics
  • Tight hamstrings or hip flexors

Service members often participate in repetitive movements and carry heavy gear as part of their daily responsibilities. They also receive little training on proper body mechanics and spend long periods in uncomfortable settings and positions. Furthermore, veterans frequently resume duty before fully healing from acute lower back injuries or feel pressured to ignore minor symptoms of lower back pain, increasing the risk of chronic symptoms of lumbar strain.

Lumbar strain may also be confused with other conditions characterized by back pain, such as a herniated disk—when a disk between the vertebrae is pushed out of normal position—or spinal stenosis, where the spinal canal narrows and puts pressure on the spinal cord. Lumbar strain can worsen the symptoms of these conditions, so it is best to speak with your health care provider to diagnose the pain.

How Does the VA Rate Lumbar Strain?

The VA rates lumbar strain under 38 C.F.R. Part 4 § 4.71a. Veterans with lumbar strain receive a disability rating between 10 percent and 100 percent, depending on the extent of the disability. Ratings look at how much pain the veteran suffers, how much of the spine the strain affects, and how much the pressure impacts spinal mobility.

  • The VA gives a 100 percent disability rating for a lumbosacral strain that includes “unfavorable ankylosis of the entire spine,” meaning stiffening in a non-straight position. This rating includes pain and stiffness higher in the back as well as pain and stiffness in the lumbar region.
  • Veterans receive a 50 percent disability rating for unfavorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine, including the thoracic and lumbar regions.
  • The VA gives a 40 percent disability rating when the veteran has forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine of thirty degrees or less or favorable ankylosis of the entire thoracolumbar spine. Favorable ankylosis means the spine stiffens in an upright, straight position, not a curved or bent position.
  • A 20 percent disability rating includes several circumstances, including forward flexion in the thoracolumbar spine of between 30 and 60 degrees or severe muscle spasms and guarding that lead to abnormal gait or contour of the spine.
  • The VA offers a 10 percent disability rating for forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine between 60 and 85 degrees, combined range of motion in the thoracolumbar spine between 120 degrees and 235 degrees, or muscle spasms, guarding, and tenderness that do not create an abnormal gait or spinal contour.

TDIU and Lumbar Strains

Lumbar strains that result in chronic pain and disability interfere with a veteran’s ability to work. When lumbar strain leads to a complete inability to work, veterans apply for Total Disability Individual Unemployability. TDIU pays veterans who cannot work because of a service-connected disability the benefits of a 100 percent rating even if they have lower overall ratings.

To qualify for TDIU, you need one condition rated at least 60 percent disabling or multiple conditions with a combined VA disability rating of at least 70 percent, with one rated at least 40 percent.

To establish Total Disability Individual Unemployability, veterans must provide evidence of the following:

  • Current and past employment
  • Education history
  • Evidence of why they cannot get or hold a job because of lumbar strain

Lumbar Strain as a Secondary Disability

Chronic symptoms of lumbar strain often occur as a primary disability. However, veterans also suffer lumbar strain from other disabilities. For example, lumbar arthritis increases the risk of strains and sprains in the lumbar region. Chronic low back pain also has connections to post-traumatic stress disorder.

When you have lumbar strain as a secondary disability, you can file it with the VA to increase your disability rating. Increasing your disability rating increases the payments you receive from the VA, allowing more financial freedom.

For veterans claiming multiple disabling conditions, the VA uses a combined ratings table instead of simply combining the ratings.

How to Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Lumbar Strain?

To receive a VA rating for lumbar strain, start with VA Form 21-526EZ, which you can file online. Make sure you fill out the form completely. The VA may deny or delay your claim if you miss any requested information.

A complete claim includes evidence of your disability and how it impacts you. The VA recommends that you have the following:

  1. Medical records from any military care related to lumbar strain or chronic back pain
  2. Medical records from non-military care providers for back pain treatment, including emergency room or urgent care visits
  3. Statements from friends, relatives, and service members regarding how you suffered a lumbar strain, how it has impacted your life, or how it has made it difficult for you to work

Nexus Letters

A Nexus Letter establishes the connection between your service in the U.S. Armed Forces and your lumbar strain. A private health care provider will write a letter detailing how service-related activities or behaviors increased your lumbar strain or caused chronic injury symptoms. You can get a Nexus Letter from a care provider you haven’t previously worked with, who goes over your medical records to establish the extent of your lumbar strain and how it connects to your service.

C&P Exams

If the VA does not receive adequate evidence from your initial claim, it may request you undergo a compensation and pension, or C&P, exam. A C&P exam allows a VA provider to evaluate you and the extent of your injuries, including how much mobility you have lost due to lumbar strain and how much pain it causes. During the C&P exam, the provider will ask for more information about your back pain and how it impacts your life. The doctor will focus on a range of motion or how much you can bend and move your spine despite your injuries.

If you need help filing a disability claim with the VA for lumbar strain, Veterans Guide can help. Contact us for more information.

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